Ceramics specialist Ben Williams, who exposed studio pottery forger Jeremy Broadway, has drawn up a guide of how to spot fakes that have still not been traced.
A former art teacher at Bryanston School in Dorset, Broadway, 52, who started making the ceramics in his garden shed after taking early retirement due to ill health, was given a 12-month supervision order in November after Bournemouth Crown Court heard he was unfit to plead under the Mental Health Act. The case against him was found to be proven in his absence.
Details of the case have only been revealed now after proceedings against his wife, Catherine Broadway, were dropped due to lack of evidence.
Broadway is thought to have made at least £20,000 through selling to collectors across Europe and the US over a three-year period, starting from 2003.
Bonhams, Christie’s and Galerie Besson were among those taken in by the fakes.
Mr Williams, former head of contemporary ceramics at Bonhams and now a specialist at Phillips de Pury, alerted police to a bogus Leach vase being sold by Duke’s of Dorchester for Broadway in January 2006. Broadway and his wife Catherine were arrested but refused to give police details of the items had previously sold.
When police raided Broadway’s home in Child Okeford, Dorset they found a studio with a potter’s wheel and kiln, fake seal marks and a pile of fake Rie bowls, which would have been worth as much as £50,000, stacked on top of each other in a toilet.
Mr Williams first received a phone call in 2004 from Broadway on behalf of a “little old lady in the village” he claimed wanted to sell some pots inherited from her late husband, who had collected them in the mid 1960s. He then sent Mr Williams images of two “Leach” iron glaze vases and a “Rie” pot, which appeared to be genuine and were sold at Bonhams New Bond Street in November 2004 for a total of £8900.
After the sale, Broadway sent images of three further Lucie Rie bowls, but Mr Williams was suspicious. “In one of the images, I noticed something unusual. On Lucie Rie bowls, there are often thin and scratchy blue lines, but on these the lines were thicker and more precise. They lacked spontaneity.”
In April 2005, Mr Williams was dubious when Christie’s offered three Lucie Rie bowls for sale for a total of £17,000, which bore the same thicker lines.
“When I went to Christie’s, they just looked wrong and were clearly fake. Upon handling them, I noticed the weight distribution was not right. I realised I had made a mistake and had been fooled.”
He suggested Christie’s got a second opinion before selling the bowls and they were later withdrawn.
Mr Williams contacted the police and alerted other auction houses and galleries. Many in London and the south-west had already been approached by Broadway. Mr Williams also recovered the three pieces sold by Bonhams and ensured the buyers were refunded.
“The worst thing would have been to let it continue, which would have undermined the market. If people start to get worried that there are fakes out there that nobody can identify then that undermines confidence.”
Police also used the potter John Leach, grandson of Bernard Leach, to examine some of the vases.
Detective Constable Jon Bayliff, of Weymouth CID, thanked Mr Williams for exposing the scam.
“The amount of time this deception went on for, and the number of people duped, is staggering. It is thanks to the close community of art dealers in London that this deception didn’t spread much farther,” he said.
Two pieces sold through Gallerie Besson were recovered from Copenhagen and two “Leach” vases, which were sold on eBay, have been seized from collectors.
However, numerous unexplained credits on Broadway’s bank account are believed to be from the sale of fakes that have not been traced.
Most disparities between Broadway’s works and the originals were due to technical differences in the manufacturing process. There are a few tell tale signs that collectors should beware of:
All Broadway fakes seen by Mr Williams were iron glaze vases, so buyers should be particularly vigilant when examining these.
The form of Rie’s bowls varied according to the glaze she intended for them, but Broadway produced a stock of generic conical footed bowl shapes which he then glazed differently. Rie fired her bowls once, resulting in the distinctive mottled surface of her work, where the body material mixes in with the glaze in patches. Broadway biscuit-fired his copies producing a smoother, duller surface.
The thickness of Rie’s bowls varies from a thin lip to a heavily weighted base. Broadway’s are of a more uniform weight and thickness.